Stem Cells Show Promise To Treat Osteoarthritis

Fetlock MRI of a horse with osteoarthritis

Two studies led by Dr. Judith Koenig and her team at the Ontario Veterinary College have shown equine pooled cryopreserved umbilical cord blood, (eCB) MSC, to be safe and effective in treating joint pain and inflammation. Both studies received funding from Equine Guelph.

In the first study, the stem cells harvested from multiple donors of equine umbilical cord blood, (eCB), (kindly provided by eQcell), MSC were compared to saline injections in research horses.

“This type of cells is much more practical if you have a cell bank,” said Koenig. “You can treat more horses with it and it's off the shelf.”

With no systemic reactions, the green light was given for the second study to test stem cell therapy in horses with lameness due to fetlock osteoarthritis.  

Effectiveness of treatment in the second study was conducted by a lameness evaluator that was blinded to whether the horses received stem cell treatment or the saline placebo.

“Being consistent in creating the same size chip surgically in the horses prior to treatment and exercise was a challenge,” said Koenig.

The four-month study necessitated considerable manpower, with six Standardbreds receiving equal daily exercise on treadmills following up with MRI’s.  

MRI’s, x-rays, ultrasounds and weekly lameness evaluations revealed signs of osteoarthritis improved in the group treated with (eCB) MSC’s. After six weeks of treatment, the arthroscopic score was also significantly lower in the MSC group compared to the control group.

Another trial with six horses is planned for spring 2023. The initial findings are very exciting for the future possibilities of treating equine osteoarthritis with stem cell therapy.

Equine Guelph is pleased to support a number of high-quality projects at the University of Guelph by virtue of funding provided largely by the racing industry (Standardbred, Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse organizations): the Horse Improvement Program from the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the E.P. Taylor Foundation, started by veterinarians in the Thoroughbred industry and now maintained in trust by the University and Equine Guelph.
(Equine Guelph; Photo of a fetlock MRI of a horse with osteoarthritis)

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